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JOHNSON. Your remarks are specious, Sir; they are specious; but they are specious only. They are the remarks of a man adapting rectitude to his own practice, not forming his practice by the rule of rectitude. And I will now declare, since you have driven me to it, that though I think your composition light and lively, and therefore recommend it as a model to ordinary writers, I cannot help observing in it a colloquial imbecility, to the standard of which a man of energetick thought could not, without danger of enervation, subject himself. A man of genius, Sir, will display the coruscations, or rather the steady lustre, of that genius, equally by the manner and by the matter, equally in his sentiments and in his diction.
To this I object not: but at the same time I beg leave to say, that genius may be as much shown in simple as in pompous writing. Artis est celare artem. And, if you would hear me with patience and impartiality, I might perhaps convince you, that it would not have been hurtful to your compositions, if you had softened their oratorical rigour with a little of that colo loquial imbecility which you censure in mine.
JOHNSON. Well, well; you shall be heard with patience. I must allow that you possess a facility of expression which is not unpleasant. You have a mind well furnished with the stores subservient to elegance and utility ; but your thoughts are in energy deficient, because you are too little ambitious of adding ornament to elucidation. You have in you, Sir, too much of the playful and pliant companion, and too little of the dignity of an author.
That I take to be a great compliment. And perhaps our present contrariety of opinion might make us mutually desire the conversation of each other; since you are as willing to object, as I am to be praised; and since I receive as commendation what you speak as censure. However, you have allowed me to exa. mine your notions of style, and I will not defer that topick any longer. You will doubtless agree with me, that speech was intended to convey the sentiments of men from one to another; and that, therefore, its first and most essential quality is, to be understood.
JOHNSON. Yes: I admit that language must be intelligible ;
and that it was fabricated as a vehicle for human cogitation.
Since, then, we agree in this, you will also allow that of two words having the same signification an au. thor ought to prefer the more intelligible."
JOHNSON, I might perhaps agree with you in general upon that point. But are there not words, sullied by the mouth of the multitude, which from meanness, or yulgarity, become unsuitable to the majesty of composition?
If a word, conveying an idea with meanness either inherent in itself or acquired by association, be compared with another word which conveys the same idea without meanness, the significations of those words are in some degree different, and therefore they are not included in my proposition
JOHNSON Perhaps you may be right. But are there not words whose venerable magnitude gives them an elegance and a dignity superior to that of the more diminutive parts of speech? Cant words, and vulgar words in general, are short. Your friend Swift will tell you so.
ADDISON. Yes : but he will not tell me, that short words are always either cant or vulgar.-I allow, that, in certain circumstances, even in prose, one word may be preferable to another for the sound only. But I can never admit, that sound is more valuable than sense ; or believe, that a reader, when he meets with a word he does not understand, will think his ignorance compensated by his discovering that the word in question consists of six or seven syllables, and ends with -ation, or ~osity. If it were to be established as a rule, that one expression should be preferred to another for the sound merely, without its being considered whether common readers could understand it or not; we might soon expect to see the words answering and noisy banished from our language, that their place might be supplied by the Greek poluphloisboio and apameibomenos. I must therefore maintain, that one word is to be chosen in preference to another for the sake of the sound, only when the sense is in both exactly the same, and in both equally perspicuous.
JOHNSON. And I must, I think, give my assent to your former proposition thus limited and explained. But surely you do not mean to insinuate, that an author must use no word which cannot by the vulgar be understood.
ADDISON. By no means. I know that an author may have occasion to mention many things that the common people do not understand, and therefore have not language to express. But I still think, that he ought to prefer a word which the vulgar can understand to one which they cannot, if it convey the same meaning with equal elegance.
JOHNSON. I see that you adhere to your rule, and will oblige me to agree with you.
Do you then renounce fragility, detruncation, and other unwieldy things, whose sense may be expressed in plain English with equal elegance and much greater perspicuity ?
JOHNSON. Sir, Sir, you have a puerile mode of argumentation, which
you must have learned by conversing with the rabble of London in
papers: my periodic callucubrations had a loftier aim. Make me a speech to confirm your doctrine, and I will confute it ; write